Why is Isekai Anime so popular?

Why is Isekai Anime so popular?

The word isekai (異世界) means “a strange/different world”. The origin of the concept can be traced to Japanese folk tales – the legend of Urashima Tarou, where the journey to a fantastic world is represented by the Dragon Palace, is considered a precursor to the isekai genre in anime. It is heavily inspired by JRPGs and other video games as well; however, these “other worlds” usually take their inspiration from Western fantasy narratives, such as Lord of the Rings, Dungeons And Dragons, Dragon Quest, being a subgenre of fantasy where the main character or a group ends up in a fantasy world, which doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical one, it can be a realistic virtual one, and that’s the case with Sword art online, for example. Even in the beginning, when most isekai anime were mostly inspired by Western fantasies that took place in other worlds, there were many Asian-inspired titles, such as InuYasha: A Feudal Adventure.

In isekai adventures, the main character or group is usually involuntarily teleported to this other world. With the recent isekai craze, the genre evolved and we have characters dying and being reincarnated in other worlds instead of just being sucked into them as if the players were just trapped in Aincrad, in the very first arc of the aforementioned Sword art onlineand there is a new wave of isekai where characters are trapped in otome game-like scenarios.

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Isekai’s cradle

Digimon Isekai

In the early 1990s, some titles covering the premise of alternate universes began to appear in Japan. The shoujo manga Fushigi Yuugi began publishing in 1992, it covered the adventures of two girls who are transported into the world and the plot of a book.


The following year, CLAMP published the manga The magical knight Rayearth, one year later adapted into an anime series. In 1995, El Hazard, an anime with an original story, debuted on Japanese television. In 1996, Inuyasha began to be serialized in Weekly Shonen Sunday magazine. In 1997, as an incentive for children to buy Tamagotchi, the virtual pets Digimon anime was created, where a group of friends are transported into the digital world which, despite not being commercialized as isekai, fits the genre definition.

To return to the scene and be caught in a digital world

The DigiDestined and their partners as shown in a Digimon Tri Reunion campaign.

In 2002, the genre returned with full force, with three new and now very well-known titles: Spirited Away, .hack, and Sword art online. Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. The project to .hack franchise involved games and books, in addition to anime. With the release of the anime .hack//Sign and the game .hack//Infection and the success they achieved, the franchise quickly expanded to cover the main areas of entertainment. Sword art online was a book by Reki Kawahara that was published online between 2002 and 2008, and was adapted into the light novel format in 2009, with the first season of the anime series debuting on Japanese television in 2012.

Sword art online became extremely popular and fostered a revival of the genre’s popularity. After that, some of the most popular fantasy stories told in alternate worlds were created, in the light novel format, and in 2014 was the first of these titles to be adapted into an anime. No game, no life. After that came Overlord, in 2015, and KonoSuba and Re: Zeroin 2016.

Since then, the number of isekai stories has only increased – as well as their titles have gotten longer, in this new “group” of isekai stories. From The time I was reincarnated as a slime, that’s the story of the reincarnated-as-a-virus — and this was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, but published after it started —, to Reincarnated as a sword, we have main characters who are reincarnated as very strange beings/objects, which creates many new opportunities to tell new stories. There’s even a webtoon called Once upon a time I was reincarnated as a stone. Isekai anime that I’m a villain so I tame the final boss, Romantic killer, Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is tough on mobs are three examples of what can be considered the “dawn of the otome isekai era”.

Why is Isekai so appealing?New Isekai Anime

Isekai as a genre has been a thing for a while, and the upcoming winter 2023 season is counting on some promising titles in this genre. However, they have become a trend in the 2010s and are regaining power again with their long titles and brave new worlds, with a rise in the popularity of female protagonists as well. Reborn to master the blade: From heroic king to extraordinary squire, there is a nice twist, where the king is reincarnated as a woman. Not only does he stop being king and become a squire, but there’s also this gender-bending twist, which makes the premise very promising.

Escapism has always been present in storytelling, from tales of ore that Alice in Wonderland to modern as BOFURI: I don’t want to be hurt, so I will defend myself to the maximumthey share the basis of having their reality based on the fantasy mechanics – and modern versions have embraced the digital world, now a trend, which started with Digimon. That is, the “old” escapism has only been adapted to our modern and highly technological and digital age, but it never stopped being there. Not only are they wish-fulfillment distractions, but these stories can also become characteristics to be analyzed in the future, reflecting our aspirations and difficulties in a world so demanding. For now, it’s good enough that they provide welcome reprieve from the harsh realities of real life.

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